LCFS could increase global emissions

September 14, 2010   by Joe Terrett, Editor

Bitumen surface mining, Alberta oil sands.

Photo: Global Forest Watch Canada

The implementation of a nationwide low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) in the US would not reduce global greenhouse gas emissions: it would increase them, according to a new study.

The research (link to, conducted by Barr Engineering Co. of Minneapolis for the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) in Washington, DC, challenges the notion there is an environmental benefit to be derived from not importing Western Canadian oil sands petroleum.

It assumes that because the standards would prevent US refineries from importing oil sands petroleum from its next-door neighbour, the US would instead have to import more oil in tankers from the Middle East and elsewhere. At the same time, the Canadian oil would be shipped in tankers across the Pacific to China and other Asian locations.

The study calls this long-distance logistics a “shuffle” that would result in higher carbon dioxide emissions. It found that LCFS would actually cause greenhouse gas emissions to increase by 7.1 million tonnes to 19 million tonnes per year, depending on the displacement of Canadian crude imports.

Canada is currently the largest supplier of petroleum imported into the US, says the study, but other nations are looking to the Canadian oil sands as a potential energy source. Indeed, China has already invested more than $6 billion in Canadian oil sands projects as it increases its presence in overseas energy production.

The standards aren’t rated very highly as a solution to the oil sands’ impact on the environment, according to study findings by the Pembina Institute, an energy think tank with offices across Canada. Respondents to the 2010 Global Thought Leader Survey on Sustainability (link to who came from government, academia, industry, institutions and non-profit organizations, noted the solutions least likely to be rated as having high potential are carbon capture and storage (13%) and low-carbon fuel standards (12 per cent).

The NPRA notes two other recent studies also call the effectiveness of LCFS into doubt:

• A June 2010 report by Charles River Associates found that a nationwide LCFS implemented in 2015 would by 2025 result in the loss of between 2.3 million and 4.5 million US jobs; increase by up to 170% the price of gasoline and diesel fuel; and cut the US GDP by 2% to 3 per cent.